Harry was on his knees, trying to crawl towards the small blur of a door a hundred yards away from him before the flames licking the walls a yard to his left and a yard to his right could reach him. There was only one path to follow in this absurdly long and narrow room, but somehow, every ten yards or so, he would find himself going the wrong way and have to frantically turn himself around. He scurried as furiously as possible towards his goal, but seemed to get no closer to it; he tried to breathe the cleaner air at ground level, but saw that each inhalation was vacuuming the black smoke greedily down towards his mouth; tried to scream Mum, Dad, help, but was unable to make a sound. As his breath seemed to be leaving him, Harry looked up andsaw a pale silvery figure hovering above and in front of him, wand poised to cast. The smoke was too thick to let Harry recognize the face, but the voice that he heard was familiar:
The dimensions of the room returned to their normal proportions, the fire and smoke to their natural levels, and the five-year-old Harry resumed his desperate four-footed trek to safety. His older avatar waited for theconclusion to the scene he had seen so many times, once in real life and countless times (as now) in nightmares. True to the 16-year-old Harry’s memory, the door burst open and Uncle Vernon rushed to pick him up and carry him out to safety, covering what seemed to the child vast expanses of deadly ground with only three or four giant strides. Little Harry burrowed for safety into his uncle’s arms and began to breathe regularly—
“Vigilem” shouted Harry Potter with a scowl he carried into the waking world.
Harry sat up on his Privet Drive bed, remembering the feel of his uncle’s saving embrace and revolting against it. Although the meditation exercises Professor Bandhit had taught him let him enter and control his dreams to a large extent, and though the “non decipeor” spell was supposed to rescue him from false visions, there was still something dreadfully false about the heartwarming ending of this scene. Uncle Vernon, rushing back into the burning building like a fat mustachioed Lassie.... Harry knew he would not be getting back to sleep that night. He located his Pensieve and raised wand to forehead. With a “Fiat memoriam” Harry entered the scene that had given birth to so many of his nightmares:
Five-year-old Harry looked in fascination at Aunt Petunia conducting the flames of the stove, making them rise and fall with a muttered word and a turn of the hand. Petunia finished and brought the platters to the table. Her attention was fixed on her husband and son, so she didn’t notice her nephew creep towards the stove. Young Harry started waving his hands about in imitation of his aunt, “twisting knobs” midair. Nothing happened, naturally, so he started adding some nonsense syllables, mixed here and there with a genuine curse he had overheard. Vernon and Petunia heard those, and turned to rebuke him, only to drop their silverware in shock at the spectacle of the monstrous prodigy attempting to work wandless black magic. Petunia screamed; the boy started in fright; and the drapes ignited.
Petunia’s scream redoubled. Dudley bawled. Vernon looked at the child Harry with horror, then gathered up his crying son in his arms and waddled double-quick to the door. Petunia followed her husband, still shrieking, as the fires spread through the drapes and woodwork around the room. Just before Petunia got to the door, which her husband was holding open with one arm, she saw the credenza to the side of the door and frantically opened one of its cases. Hurriedly she gathered as many of her precious designer commemorative plates as she could. With a breath of relief, she ran out of the house without a backward glance. The door slammed shut.
Young Harry sat on the floor, not knowing what to do. There must be a reason he had been left behind, they would come back for him soon, and if he just ran out, without having been told to, mightn’t that spoil everything? But when the smoke started to fill the house, the child decided he had better act to save himself than trust in his aunt and uncle. By that time, though, it was becoming difficult to see, or to breathe.... So he crawled, and the distance to the faint daylight showing under the door seemed to stretch out tauntingly as he moved, until the door burst open and, once again, his rescuer appeared and opened his arms to pick young Harry up.
Older Harry looked at the scene, and his stare combined outrage and vindication. The “Uncle Vernon” who was gathering in his “nephew” was a fabrication, a life-sized Vernon Durlsey action figure with a fixed avuncular smile on its plastic face. For this thingto show up in a Pensieve meant that young Harry’s memory had been tampered with after his rescue, to restore his faith that his step-parents would always, however belatedly, however grudgingly, take care of him; would not, could not, leave a five-year-old child to die an agonizing death rather than turn around and take ten steps through heat and smoke.
Harry had a strong suspicion who was his real rescuer -- and obliviator -- and a close look at the false Vernon told him he was right. It was the shoes and the socks which confirmed it: shoes with toes so curled and pointed that no Little Whinging Muggle would ever wear them, socks so painfully lime green that no wizard who prized his dignity would ever be seen in them. That left one obvious suspect, and the moment Harry reached his conclusion, the counterfeit Vernon wavered out of existence, and Professor Dumbledore took his place. Harry was almost bursting with resentment, and wanted to be even more furious at the head of the Order of the Phoenix for this fraud and entrapment. As he glanced again at the Pensieve scene, however, Harry saw an old man tenderly cradling a child and looking down on him with such obvious fondness that, against his will, the young man found himself invaded by memories and feelings of gratitude and affection.
No such thoughts or feelings came with regard to the Dursleys, however, so at four o’clock in the morning Harry began a frenzy of packing, slamming drawers that had nothing in them he wanted, furiously tossing coat hangers with clothes he would never wear again, tearing up the floorboards covering his cloak and broom. Harry found himself tempted to let out a wolf’s howl, both to wake and frighten the Dursleys and to let out all his rage and disgust at the whole past year of horrors; the deaths of Michael Corner and Dennis Creevey, the nightmare at 12 Grimmauld Place... To Harry’s surprise it took more than a half-hour of this racketto bring his family up and shouting, by which time Harry was fully dressed and standing at the door, waiting for his aunt, uncle and cousin to make their way downstairs to begin their interrogation. A bleary-eyed, red-faced Uncle Vernon got out one syllable before Harry broke in on him:
“ ‘What is the meaning of this? what do I think I’m doing’--”
“...disturbing the well-earned rest of normal people--”
“normal greedy, normal gluttonous, normal heartless--”
“how dare you, after we took you in--”
“...you took me-- you locked me in, you left me behind to burn to death!”
Silence descended for several seconds. ThenVernon stuttered and shook a finger at Harry, saying “It was...You started it, that fire, don’t--” and Petunia cried “You weren’t supposed to remember that!”
“That’s right,” Harry said to his aunt, “it’s another thing I ‘wasn’t supposed’ to do; I bet you think you’re entitled to an apology for that--”
“That was -- it must have been twelve years ago”.
“And you’ve changed so much since then, haven’t you? So if it happened today, you would take, you would pick--”
Harry looked at the old credenza near him, by the door. There were the same collectors’ plates on display, behind their glass protection. In a rage he thrust his fist through the glass and made a grab for the plates. Petunia gave out a cry full of pain and horror.
“You kept polishing them, twice a week, all these years,” Harry murmured as he turned them over in his hands. “Every Tuesday and Saturday.Your precious...” He started to raise one plate into smashing position, but stopped as he noticed the blood smeared across its front. The blood, he saw, came from the cuts on his hands from when he had punched through the glass. An idea occurred to Harry, and rather than break the plates he very deliberately rubbed his bloody hand over them, in full view of his aghast aunt. “See if you can get this to come off completely,” he said to her. “It’s magic blood, you know; maybe it will keep coming back.”
The Dursleys remained silent as Harry picked up his bag in one hand, his broom in the other. “So, good news for all of us,” he said, “I’m going now.”
“What do you mean, you’re going,” snarled Vernon. “You think you’re going to leave now, when it’s almost over--”
“What do you mean, ‘it’s almost over’?”
“...I get it, you think you’re clever, just ‘remembering’ now, a week before your birthday--”
“You’re not getting away with this; sixteen years, we’ve earned what’s coming to us: Dudley!”
With surprising speed, Dudley lunged at Harry to wrestle him to the ground. With both hands occupied, Harry only had time to drop his things, but not to reach for his wand, before Dudley had him pinned. “His back pocket,” Petunia yelled, “he keeps it in his back pocket.” Vernon extracted the wand and held it up with a yelp of triumph.
Harry was half-struggling to escape, half-waiting for some accidental magic to kick in and burn Dudley’s fingers, but nothing was doing in either direction: Dudley’s grip held firm. In minutes, Harry was hogtied to the chair with some rope and cable Vernon had quickly grabbed from the garage, with his relatives all looking down on him. In a state of black fury, Harry tried to glare holes through Vernon’s head.
“None of that, now,” his uncle said. “We’re just making sure we get what we earned. That’s what honest people live by, but I guess you people think you’re above that, think you can get out of an agreement at the last minute, after making us--”
“What the hell are you talking about; I never made any agreement with you!”
“Your people did,” Petunia answered. “Right after the fire -- the fire you started -- we were going to give you back. How could we keep a menace like you--”
“You think ‘normal’ kids don’t ever start fires?” Harry snapped. “You’re lucky Dudley hasn’t burned the house down, smoking in the garage with all those oily rags--”
“He’s lying, mom!” Dudley cried.
“I don’t care if he isn’t,” Petunia shouted. She turned back to Harry. “Don’t try to get out of this, you arrogant ungrateful--”
“And what am I trying to ‘get out of’?”
“Your debt -- the only reason we let you stay in this house, after almost killing us all, was that your headmaster promised to make it worth our while. And the agreement was: we hold out and tolerate you until you’re of age, until you’re seventeen.”
Harry’s head was swimming, and he thought he might throw up.
“And now,” Vernon continued, “with just a week left, you conveniently decide you can’t take it here any more. Well, we aren’t having it. You can stay in that chair and eat soup through a straw for seven more days; then go wherever the devil you want, and be damned.”
Harry sat back, closed his eyes and tried to calm himself.
“How much?” he finally asked.
“You aren’t in the league, boy” said Vernon
“Half a million pounds” Vernon said. “Have it on you?” In the pause that followed, Vernon chortled at his nephew’s silence and helplessness, while Harry reckoned up the contents of his inheritance from his parents, that from Sirius, and the Galleon-Pound exchange rate. He tried to remember whether the goblins were giving him three percent or three and a quarter; either way, if he added all the interest which had accrued to both vaults since the last time he had read his statement, on Sirius’ death...
“I’ll double it.”
It took till sunrise for Harry to explain about his vaults, to endure the explosions from his aunt and uncle about keeping his wealth a secret from them, and to bargain with them for terms of release. Vernon demanded a written contract, the terms of which were:
1) Harry Potter was to return before the end of the day with £1,000,000, such money to consist of 20,000 normal British £50-pound cash notes, no spells to make them disappear or shrink or turn color or sing or dance or alter their shape or appearance in any way whatsoever at any time subsequent to their delivery;
2) Potter would be allowed to seek the assistance of some friend or friends in order to shrink and lighten the cash and place anti-theft charms on it so that it would be certain to come back intact, but the cash must be returned to its normal appearance on delivery (see item 1) and all such friends must be sworn to secrecy until after Potter’s birthday;
3) Upon fulfillment of items 1) and 2), Vernon, Petunia and Dudley Dursley swore never to attempt to force Potter to stay with any of them, either at Privet Drive or whatever location any of them might live in in the future; in return, Potter swore never to attempt any form of retaliation, magical or non-magical, [Vernon’s original formulation had been ‘normal or abnormal’] against any of the Dursleys, or against their friends or relatives, nor to request, urge or incite any other person, magical or non-magical, to take any action against them or their interests.
At the end of these negotiations, Harry’s right arm was freed, enabling him to sign the contract. Dudley had alreadymoved behind him, a blunt object ready to impact squarely at the back of Harry’s skull.
“Now,” Vernon said, “you say you need... this... to make the contract binding.” Vernon slowly held the wand out to give to his nephew. “You’re going to swear slowly, and clearly, in normal English, or, or--”
“Or if I hear you starting anything funny,” Dudley continued, “I can fuck you up so bad even your friends won’t be able to put you right. It would just take one swing, and don’t think you’re fast enough to duck it.”
Harry turned towards his aunt, expecting to see her on the brink of a heart attack from the shock of hearing her baby use such language. He saw instead a look of exultant satisfaction in her eyes.
“Alright, I hear you Dudders,” Harry said as casually and cockily as he could. “Now, my wand please.”
With one more glare and one more warning from Vernon, the wand was supplied. Harry gave his pledge: “I swear by my magic to fulfill, to the best of my ability, all my obligations under this contract.” The wand flared. “That means the oath has been accepted,” Harry informed his relatives. “If I break it, I lose all my magic -- I become a Muggle.”
“Listen to the way he says that,” declaimed Vernon. “Like it would be a disgrace to be normal, like it would kill him--”
“It would kill me, stupid,” Harry shouted back. “It doesn’t have anything --”
“I won’t be talked to like that, boy--”
“--to do with ‘disgrace,’ Voldemort is doing his best--”
“--you watch your mouth or you’ll get what’s coming to you, you just swore an oath--”
“--to kill me. And don’t threaten me, I swore I wouldn’t retaliate, I didn’t swear I wouldn’t defend myself. Back off, Dudley--Libero!”
The ropes flew away, and Harry stood up.
“Now, I’m going to Gringotts. If I’m lucky, my minders will understand and help me out.”
It turned out to be Harry’s first piece of luck for the day that two of the Order’s least stringent members, Tonks and George Weasley, were on guard that morning. Even these two, however, became quickly exasperated with Harry’s refusal to explain the particulars of why he needed to make a trip to Gringotts, and why he was going to be leaving Privet Drive right after his return. When they threatened to go in and confront his relatives Harry gave in and told them the story, complete with a reading of the contract and its clause about retaliation to prevent any temptation to storm into the house and have a reckoning with the Muggles. Tonks started to give Harry a browbeating for his rashness, and George challenged Harry’s sanity for throwing his money away. In frustration, Harry turned away, dashed into the street and held out his wand to call the Knight Bus. When it showed up a few moments later, Harry climbed in and the minders were forced to accompany him. Tonks still wanted to continue the berating, albeit in whispered form, but Harry pleaded:
“Not now, alright? Can we just get things done now and have the analysis later?
The ride passed mostly in sullen silence after that, and the transaction at the bank went smoothly enough. (The Gringotts’ Goblins were not in the habit of flagging or holding up any transactions as ‘questionable,’ even those which resulted in the sudden and near-total emptying of an underaged client’s vault.) By the time the last galleon had been swept up and the last set of hundred-pound notes banded, Tonks and George had cooled and softened somewhat.
“It isn’t just my being mad at you, Harry,” Tonks said. “I’m furious at the situation, at what happened to you -- oh, don’t make that face--”
“I didn’t want to tell the story, I wasn’t asking for pity--”
“Well, I’m not giving you pity, I’m giving sympathy, and it isn’t something you have to ask for, it just comes naturally for friends.”
“We are on your side, you know” George added.
Harry managed a genuine smile. “Yeah. Yeah of course I know that.”
“But you still act like a sulky child sometimes, and it drives everybody crazy” Tonks said.
Harry started to flare up at that, but damped himself down and gave another smile. “Yeah, I know that too. But I really don’t think, this time... I just couldn’t stay in that house another minute. I had to get out of there.”
“Well,” George said, “One more descent into the bowels of darkest cleanliness and you’re out for good... free as a bloody bird... no more worries, no more cares...”
Harry laughed. “George, can you do me a favor; I’m allowed to get help in shrinking this pile--”
“Sure thing, mate. Just let me look at it in its full-size glory for a minute--”
“And there’s one other charm that I think you can help with, maybe Fred would be interested too...”
Harry returned with his guards, who left him at the edge of the property. He, or more precisely his valise full of cash (quickly restored to its normal size) was welcomed in, and the Dursleys set to counting it.
“This must be the happiest day of your lives, right? You get an early payment, and it’s a double payment, more than you even thought to ask for.”
“And we get rid of you,” Vernon said with a grin.
“And you get rid of me. So I think I’m entitled to give a little parting speech. All I want to say is... Aunt Petunia, you said I was ‘arrogant’ and ‘ungrateful.’ Well, thanks, I’m glad to hear it. Because if you had made me humble and grateful for all you ‘gave’ me, it would have meant you’d won. You wanted to beat me down, to beat everything I had of my father and my mother out of me--but they wouldn’t let you do it.”
Harry pronounced these last words with such fanatic conviction Petunia went pale with fright for a moment, whether at the thought of Lily and James haunting their house or the idea that her nephew had gone quite mad.
“You can keep your dead parents’ spirit, Potter,” Dudley responded, “and we’ll keep your money. Your mighty wand didn’t end up helping you much, did it? You can’t do anything against us now. Looks to me like we did win.”
“Oh right, about that-- you really should have had somebody who knows something about the magical world look over that contract first.”
Three faces looked up from their counting.
“You trying to scare us with a bluff now, boy?” Vernon asked. “Won’t work. Won’t work with us.”
“Not a bluff. It’s just that when I swore I wouldn’t get ‘any person, magical or non-magical’ to retaliate against you... You know, there are all sorts of intelligent beings who aren’t classed as ‘persons’ by the magical government.”
The confidence began to drain rapidly from the faces of Harry’s relatives. Stillness and silence stretched out, second after second, until the inevitable question came:
“Like who?” asked Dudley, with a quaver.
“House elves -- like Dobby, the one who ruined your party five years ago. Goblins...”
(Vernon coughed nervously.)
“...Centaurs. Vampires, of course...”
“...and werewolves. Like Remus Lupin -- you remember Remus, Aunt Petunia.”
(Petunia’s eyes went wide and her lip trembled.)
“I’m not making any threats, exactly,” Harry continued. “Just... I don’t know... to let you know you didn’t really have all the answers, like you thought you did.”
“We still have the money,” Vernon spat.
“That’s right. You have the money. And it’s all legal, you can use it. But...”
“But what, boy?”
“Freud had some interesting things to say about money. That’s all I’m going to tell you.”
Before the Dursleys could respond to that, Harry had left Number 4 Privet Drive for the last time. Tonks and George were ready with Portkeys to the Burrow and activated them immediately; all traces of Lily Potter’s protection must surely have been stripped completely the moment the contract was fulfilled. As he landed outside the familiar house of his friends and walked quickly to the entrance, Harry indulged in a daydream about what the next days and weeks would bring for the Dursleys as they tried to use that money; their puzzlement as one merchant after another wrinkled his nose on receiving the bill and gave a sniff of disgust and a stare of disdain at the people trying to pass this disgusting, odorous thing off on him. The smell of Dungbombs had that effect on people -- unless they had received a counter-charm, like the Dursleys had when they touched the valise -- and the money was saturated with that smell. Although such bills were still ‘legal tender,’ after a while there wouldn’t be a store in all Surrey which would take Dursley money. And if Harry knew his Aunt Petunia, the plates on which he had wiped his bloody hands would haunt her forever; she would never be able to bring herself to sell them or throw them away, but all the rubbing of all the porcelain polish in the world wouldn’t convince her that the blood was out for good. She would wake up in the middle of the night with the blood crying out to her, and have to go down and rub off the marks that were quite invisible to anyone not haunted by a paranoid imagination about “magical blood.”
Some satisfaction, then, in salvaging at least a bit of humorous vengeance from this miserable day. But when all was said and done, at the end of that day Harry Potter, fated guardian of the wizarding world, was homeless and destitute.
Non decipeor : “I will not be deceived”; Vigilem: “let me wake up”